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In part one of Jhumpa Lahiri’s conversation with Paul Holdengraber, the two discuss old-world family units, the banality of being busy, and the pleasure of physical books. Ms. Lahiri’s latest books, In Other Words, is out now from Knopf.
Jhumpa Lahiri on the US’s culture of mobility…
There’s this driving force that moves people around here. Children leave at 18; they leave home and sometimes they go very far away—very far away, because the United States is big. Again, having lived in Italy, I was reminded much more of my extended family in India where it was perfectly reasonable for children to live with their parents, certainly into their mid-twenties, even into their thirties, you know—even without the tradition of joint families, once you marry you stay with your parents, and all of that—even beyond that, there’s no pressure, there’s no expectation for a person at 18 to strike out and have his or her own independent relationship with the world. Sharing apartments, living with other young people, learning to cook, learning to do all of those things. And I think there’s an advantage to doing all of those things, but there’s also something that gets lost along the way.
Jhumpa Lahiri on meaningful conversation…
We’re all doing things, we’re all busy, and I find it a little bit boring to talk constantly about how busy we are… There is a sort of narcissism to it all, isn’t there? I really do prefer, if I go to someone’s house for dinner, I prefer to learn something that will stay with me. You know, tell me about something I don’t know. Tell me about a musician I’ve never heard of. Tell me about a poet I should be reading. Tell me something about the world, a situation that someone can explain to me in more detail. I find this much more stimulating, or valuable, and more interesting.
Jhumpa Lahiri on taking notes…
I tend, in conversations, to rush to my purse to pull out my notebook to jot down things that I hear about, whether they’re films, or books, or I don’t know. I feel like I’m in a kind of wonderful classroom with all of these things that I want to jot down and look up. And that’s really exciting, no?
Jhumpa Lahiri on owning books…
I do need books—I do need physical books around me to feel at home. But they can be few—as long as there’s a pile by the bed, and some books at the desk, and even if you just have a dozen to face out on the bookcase in the living room, I think it’s okay. I think even having a little bit—I mean here, everything is so big and so full. You open up these big refrigerators and they’re crammed with food… it’s perfectly normal to open the refrigerator and have two things inside of it. It doesn’t mean that you’re starving; you’re just eating differently.